Big Year Day 24-26
Big Year Total: 384
Coded birds: 20
Cool animals: Bobcat, Harbor seal, gray whale, California sea lion, pronghorn
Miles driven. 8750
Flight Miles 14600
Hours at sea: 14
Miles walked 45
Miles biked 2
states/ prov. birded:11
"The Legend of the Pink Curse"
Back in the olden days, in what is now called Sweden lived a very stubborn man. He was called Daniel the thick headed, or worse, the think skull. In general, he toiled the land in peace and didn't bother anyone, but Daniel did what he wanted when he wanted just like his father and his father's father. Back in those days, the men and women of this region, now called Darlana, worshiped the old gods, this was long before they had been "reforrmed or saved" by St Anscarius. The people in this particular region honored the Goddess of Love and battle the great Frejya.
They built a wonderful temple to the naked goddess and, in general, the land around this area was bountiful, the women stunningly beautiful, and the men virile and happy.
It was after one of the fertility festivals that the great goddess herself came to the temple to see her adoring admirers...as she was prone to do. All marveled in her glory. Freyja was something to behold when she was happy, something to be feared when she was mad. It didn't always take much for someone to die in her presence, ill tempered was she.
Freyja was about to bless the people when she noticed something, someone was missing. "Who is not here?" She demanded.
"Daniel the thick skull." They replied.
"Order him to appear at the next worship!" She said angrily and did not bless the people and left.
"At the festival of the Midsommer when all came again, all came but one man, Daniel the Thick headed was once again absent and Freyja ruined the mead and decided she would punish the man herself. It was not a happy festival as Freyja was not happy.
"Why do you not come and worship at me temple." Freyja demanded of Daniel when she found him in a field, lighting shooting from her chariot pulled by a team of lynx.
"I chose not to." Daniel replied.
"Well then, to punish you, I will make your pastures full of rocks and make you work twice as hard to produce the same harvest. The trees on this land called Grangarde shall be such that they only grow half tall. That is the punishment you shall receive for not worshiping me." Time pasted.
Freyja was having a happy day months later at the festival of the harvest. She appeared but again, Daniel was not there. Again she drove her chariot to him. Her fury rose as she came nearer to the place by a small lake.
"Have I not afflicted you?" She confronted him.
"You have poisoned my field and weakened my cow, that is true." Daniel admitted, "You are all powerful and I am nothing. You do as you will but I worked four times as hard so that it produced twice as much as before. To spite your torment of me, I dumped half of my harvest out and destroyed half of my cheese. Now I am even."
Freyja wanted to strike the man dead, something prevented her. "Then I shall punish you even greater." She said controlling herself.
"Goddess, even you cannot curse the accursed, nor do anything to change me. I just will not ever do as you demand of me. You see I am not of this land and I have been cursed by Thor and Odin, yet, here I am, who are you to make my lot any worse. Those around here are born with wooden spoons and not silver spoons in their mouths. My lot? We eat with our fingers. We are so impoverished even the poor pity us. If you are going to kill me get it over with, otherwise be gone from my sight."
Freyja stood there thinking and apparently was consulting with her fellow gods about Daniel. "What you say is true. You shall continue to toil in your woe. I shall though put a curse upon your descendants."
She raised her arms and then summoned two of her sacred cranes, the birds of which are shown kissing at the very alter of her temple. She first took the man-crane and grabbed its neck and then in a flash it began to curve, and then she pressed its beak and it bent downward in the middle like no bird ever seen in those parts. Then she spat on it and it turned the brightest pink, Daniel had ever seen. Then she did the same to the she-crane so that both were alike.
"Hence forth, Daniel the thick skull, you shall loath the color pink and these birds shall haunt you in your dreams and on this field. They will be fruitful and multiply and whenever one of yours and your lot shall come in contact with one, cursed they shall be. The water they walk in shall not be fit to drink and their flesh shall not be edible. Many generations hence there shall be one of your heirs that shall be specially afflicted. This bird will haunt his dreams and he shall seek the bird but it will not be found. It will be as if it is mocking him. He will curse it, a ghost bird he shall say. It will be there but it isn't. He will tell of it, but no one will beleive. he will seek but he will NOT find. Pink shall be his bane, his heart ache, and it will almost be the death of him. He will curse the bird and he will curse you. Bad luck will follow this man whenever he tries and fails to find this bird but if by some chance, he can get the bird's reflection, as if on a mirror, the curse shall be lifted. Free will be everyone.
"This man, shall be called Olaf the Large and this bird shall be ever called the flamingo in your language...."
Ft. Myers Florida, present day, January 24th
It was with a deep sigh and much trepidation that I booked a flight to Ft. Myers to chase the accursed nemesis bird called by me the Pink Menace. Nothing good had ever happened chasing this dang bird. Even in St Martin, my refuge, I had spent years trying to photograph one to document its existence as it has been marked as exterpated in 1934, yet, I had seen one twice and another man 4 times yet every blasted time, something inexplicable happened. I had been on two planes when told by the person on the other end not to come, bird no longer present, but it was too late, the plane had already left. Dang birds!
Now I was at it again. The cursed bird had been reported and was still reported yesterday. I left home at 1 AM to catch a morning flight after dropping off my wife at the smaller terminal in Minneapolis. She was visiting her sister in St. Thomas, I had promised to remain one timezone from our daughter.
I was upgraded and I was worried something was up. It never went well chasing this dang bird. dang Falmingoes. I got internet on the way.and saw no reports of the bird when there should have been some. I shook my head, the curse was on again. Dang flamingoes! Unlike most flights, I had booked this for three days as the bird was coming during low tide to Bunche Beach, low tide was just after dawn so I didn't really expect to see it today, but if it didn't show, that was really bad news. I swore in First Class. People looked at me funny. The stewardess came to calm me. "Dang flaminoes." I said to her. I ordered a gin at 0900. I needed a drink.
I landed in Ft Myers dejected and then a birder I knew named Chris Feeney texted me, he was also going to see the bird today. "Bird just arrived!" It was eleven, my heart pounded, so I rushed out of the plane and was first off, sitting in seat 6B in a 757, almost ran to the Hertz location.
Note the best things to have for a big year are medallion status and Hertz gold, you save a couple of days in line. I never check luggage on a bird chase in the lower 48. With the Hertz Gold, I walked right to the car and took off. My Siri told me Bunche beach was 32 minutes away, I made it in 21, only 26 minutes after the door to the plane opened I was parking the car. No time to pay the parking fee, ticket? Who cares. I grabbed my scope and ran to the beach. I phoned Chris. "Turn right we have our scopes on it. I has moved closer." Two hundred yards of anxiety was exuded during the walk on that sand. I knew something would happen, it always did. I reached Chris and two friends with him, the Tommy and Theresa Schwinghammer from Indiana. I looked up and there it was, the pink menace.
"Damn flamingo!" I shouted. I breathed fresh sea air for the first time without the pink curse. I then took its picture and something like lightning hit me. I can't explain it.
#369 American Flamingo
There are very few truly wild flamingoes seen in the US Gulf Coast. I sizable flock used to come to the Everglades each year but no longer. These that come are just vagrants from Cuba or the Bahamas where the population is increasing and it is a code 3 bird....for me....my nemesis.
Theresa Schwinghammer asked me what else I needed in Florida. I couldn't think straight, I was still tingling. Piping plover I said. "Like this one?" She motioned to her scope and there on a far sandbar was a small plover with no black on it next to a couple of semi-palms. Another year bird.
"Yes, like that one." I gave her scope back. I didn't even take a picture. It was too far and I didn't care, I had the pink menace, life was...GOOD!" I will say that I don't think those on the plane had even got there luggage before I was here and had the tick, note to you chasing birds...pack light!
#370 Piping Plover
The Scrub Jay Spot
NW Lee County
My friends went on their way. I went to McDonald's to plan and use the free wifi. Well, maybe I thought I should get the scrub jay now. It was just noon and I had 5 hours of daylight. I looked it up and saw a spot that wasn't a hot spot but had 12 ticks for the jay recently. It looked like a neighborhood. I thought that was odd. The scrub jay isn't a neighborhood kind of bird. I wrote the directions on an envelop. I got lost, then ended up at a preserve somewhere and hiked a bit and then kicked myself. I needed to "stay on target." I plugged in my Siri for the address and it took me there. I slowed for a scissor-tailed flycatcher on wire and got honked at by a guy behind me hauling a tree on a trailer. He had a huge confederate flag tied to the tree waving as he drove. I was also in a left turn lane, oh well. You guys wouldn't stop either. Red neck meets birder...bad news. I have many photos of them.
There wasn't really a neighborhood at this spot, it was a subdivision with three houses and abandoned streets and fields. Three local riff raff punks drove motorbikes at high rates of speed around and made lots of noise. They gave me the eye and I had that, I shouldn't spend too much time here, feeling. It could get physical. I drove to a spot that looked like it was the spot. All I had was an x on an envelop. So it was a spot I had marked, not the actual spot. I saw a loggerhead shrike on a powerline.
It was eating something. I would have gotten better photos but I was standing outside of my car with the door open shooting the photo having just put on my hat when out of the corner of my eye, I saw something coming at me. This is when the 24th of January became surreal, maybe even the whole trip became surreal, but I turned as the jay landed right on my head. It didn't know what to do but then it hopped onto the roof of the car and then after some photos went in the bush was joined by a friend and both scolded me for something. Maybe it was telling me that Freyja had released her curse. IDK. It was odd but then I heard the motorcycles again and I decided that it was time to go while the getting was good.
#371 Scissor-tailed flycatcher
#372 Florida Scrub-jay
Okay, 1 pm and the primary target is down, and the secondary target is also eliminated. I was a little freaked out but I was also on a roll. Don't mess with a streak, is the old adage. What to do next? I figure, Snail Kite. I had missed it on New Years Day so I sat back in the parking lot of McDonalds mooching their internet and bingo! 30 miles away, someone saw two the day before. I plugged in the hot spot on Siri and away I sped.
It was like I was doing the Monoco Grand Prix. Siri was working overtime spouting out the turns. Go a quarter mile then left on Straton, then 500 feet right on Olive. I had names like Sara, 67, 59, 51, and one with a new name, then somewhere near 40 turns I turned in on Terry. "You have reached your destination" Siri said as I tuned the corner.
I had a smile on my face but then the car turned and I noticed something was amiss..
WTF? I was at a dead end. I opened the car door to inspect it and there was no trail, nothing. This is a hotspot? Fuuudruckers. I came back and grabbed the map. Siri was demoted. I was doing this the old way and I put it on the hood and slammed the car door. I heard a rustle overhead. I looked up as two snail kites flew from above me right down the road. I grabbed my camera and ran. Sometimes you just realize that certain birds you dang well better get a photo of so no one gives you sh&t. This was one of those times. I have never photoed this bird either. I was like a crazed bull running down this abandoned street.
I ran for everything I was worth and I dove right into the bushes at the end of the road. Two large Olaf strides and the undergrowth caught my feet. I dove, but holding a camera, I instinctively rolled to protect it. I expected to be hung up or to hit the ground hard but I was suddenly free of the bushes, choosing the hole to the left, somehow, I had broken through and onto the open edge of a canal, I rolled on my shoulder, right up to my knees as the birds were just clearing the canal. Camera in the ready, I came up firing.
"Yes!" I screamed and did a fist pump. I made a motion with for a high five....but I had no one to high five with. I then checked for injuries. I had branches on me but I was not injured. I didn't see blood. Two guys and their dog eventually walked on the other side curious about me and where I came from and told me there was a trail but it was 30 miles to get around from where I was. They did give me a air high five from across the river. I needed it.
I didn't know what to do next. I was at the end of my list. To be honest, I hadn't made a list. I checked NARBA, there was a report of a Green-breasted Mango, but it was sketchy and it was on the other side of Florida. I sighed. "Should I?" I looked at my map when I got back to the car, this time being careful not to make sudden noises.
I thought about it. I shook my head. Crap. I decided to drive the Tamiami trail (Tampa to Miami) Hwy 41. Maybe I'd see something fly over?
I saw nothing and then as the light faded, so did I, so by dark, I was on the other side and nearing the Native American Casino, I could go no further. I was dead..
I sat in the parking lot and checked for a room on-line as it was a long way to the front desk, the parking lot was full. They had a room and I booked it. I walked in to check-in, I didn't even bring my suitcase. I thought I didn't like casinos, now I HATE casinos. At the door, I met a Native with an AK 47, I looked suspiciously at the sign. They were having a gun show. There was just something so wrong with that. I went to check in and began a saga that would take an hour to get into my room.
Now, mind you. I've stayed in odd and bad hotels before. I thought I could roll with anything. I've had bed bugs at 4 star hotels, and at 1/4 star ones. I've had hotels where you stuffed a blanket in the crack in the mattress to even it out and ones you had to pay for the water in the shower. That same hotel had a key passing party the weekend before we got there for something to do. I've been in lodging that came with your own llama, cat, or room with working guns on the wall. I've been in ones that turned the power off at midnight, I've stayed in hotels with odd dress-codes and some that were mandatory nude, I even had a hotel in Iowa that in the morning, a older man wearing nothing but a pair of tidy-whities bright me a glazed bun. Breakfast with a smile had too many meanings. That almost was worth the greenish black and white TV I watched the state girls 6 on 6 state basketball title game on. I will say it here that this casino hotel had the WORST service ever.
It took me an hour to get in my room. The people at the front desk had long since given up on helping me and for the most part feigned being on the phone while 20 of us squirmed in line. They seemed to only want cash, and maybe paying by credit card was not the best thing. Maintenance finally came and let me in. I wasn't going to leave my room to go to the casino or look at rifles because I would then be forced to sleep in the hall.
I ordered room service. I never order room service. "What kind of beer you have?" I asked.
"I don't know sir." Came the answer. I tried to order food and the only things they had were alligator tips but I could get a Caesar Salad. "It will be up in between one and two hours, sir." She replied. The tips were not edible. They brought me a bottle of Heineken when I ordered 'any' beer. No opener. I called for an opener. They had none. I was going to write a letter to complain, but when I noticed no internet. I called the desk and she told me I didn't pay for that and hung up never asking if I wanted to pay extra. I had already gave too much for this bull sock.
I woke up mad at 0530 and left. Checkout was even odder and I think the same bored looking people were still playing the slots. I wanted to go over to one and say "WHY ARE YOU HERE?" There are no rules for payouts at Tribal casinos you dolts! But this is tribal land and they may just take me out and shoot me....why? Remember the guns.....
I drove to Everglades National Park as I thought since it was 48 degrees, it would take a while to warm up the hummers and I had messaged a local guy named Rangel Diaz and he was very suspicious of this report of this bird. He gave me a tip on a king rail location but it didn't pan out and I went to the end of the road at Flamingo...that name again, and looked around.
I found black skimmers,
and on the sandbar out in front of the visitor center at low tide in a throng of stuff I saw
20 #374 sandwich terns terns with yellow tipped otherwise black bills. The lighting was horrible and I should have digiscoped but I didn't. I need to practice more after my loon experience.
I drove back up the park road heading for Castellow Hammock, the area with the supposed green-breasted mango and came across a large flock of white-crowned pigeons. A surprise bonus but later I learned they winter down here.
#375 White crowned pigeon
Castellow Hammock Preserve
I have never been here before and it is a little hard to find for Siri, it takes you to the wrong side. of the hammock. The important side for hummers is the west side, I may add which apparently used to be a butterfly garden and now the area is kept up as a park. The flowering shrubs have overgrown much to the delight of the hummers.
It is clear to me that something other than fate brought me here. I would have never chased this bird due to the info Rangel Diaz told me. Although someone on Facebook called me "suspect," I have never reported a coded bird to NARBA etc in which no one has previously documented with a vague description like this, with conflicting reports, and no pictures. One person even admitted hearing its sound, however the sound put on the local Audubon site was for the wrong species of mango. What did they hear? Was it mass hysteria? So they obviously didn't hear that sound.
When I arrived, local birding legend and phenom Larry Manfredi was keeping a watchful eye out for the hummer. He had seen the 2 Buff-bellied hummingbirds, the third record ever for Miami-Dade county...
bit alas, we saw nothing that looked like a big immature male mango. I cannot fathom mistaking a funny colored ruby-throat for a mango. It would be a state record if documented, too. Who knows? Maybe they saw it, we sure didn't.
I did go a check the tress for other stuff and picked up some warblers. Here are some bad pictures of...
#376 Black throated green warbler
#377 prairie warbler (nice shot of his rump)
#378 Northern parula
The crappiest photos of them all, this bugger was down deep in the underbrush, but I still think ID-able from the photo for confirmation to quell any of the doubters out there. My suspect? I invited all of you to come along but you have to keep up.
Rangel Diaz, his brother and a cousin (I think) came over and we chatted, Bs'd is a better word-- looked at the hummers and eventually when Larry and Rangel were ready to leave, I got invited over to Larry's house to see his shiny cowbirds. Larry had a coded bird coming to his feeders and more than one and they had been doing this for a while. How that happened is one of those mysteries.
Chris Feeney and Tommy and Theresa Schwinghammer stopped by to see if I was having any luck later and they got invited, too. The mango was a bust but what happened next was priceless... as they say.
Larry Manfredi's House
We chatted about Larry's upcoming tours, the one to Cuba sounded cool as did the Bahamas one and we waited for the three cowbirds. Things kept showing up, just not what we wanted, the shiny cowbird.
#379 bronzed cowbird
Not every picture is a gem...I also tallied the most gorgeous of all ABA breeding birds,
#380 Painted Bunting
Just no shiny cowbird. Larry invited us back for a second go at it in the morning. After my bad night at the casino, I desired a real dinner and real hospitality, so on a whim, I took off at 5 and drove 145 miles to Tequesta and the home of friends Jan and Stuart. Jan mothered me for the evening, and I slept a few hours and drove back down to Homestead, with a dawn stop at Kendall Baptist Hospital for a recon mission. I added nothing and cruised into Larry's at 0830, 315 miles under my belt since I had left.
#381 a purple martin flew overhead.
The birds were scared off my a Cooper's hawk and then the other three arrived. They looked secretive and had been somewhere...humm...I would have to ask Chris. He had a look of an Army guy that had just said. You are on a need to know basis and you don't need to know. I met Chris for the first time, well we played 13 holes of golf together in 1984, he was ROTC faculty at Ripon College then. It is a small world.
Then the magical birds arrived.
#382 Shiny Cowbird. Here are male and female at feeder together.
I was glad I got something out of that mango stakeout. It was something good a code 3!
***disclaimer. If any of you look at my two ebird locations, although I hate when people do this, I purposely moved the spots away from Larry's house as I am not sure he wants everyone to know where he lives. I did spend over two hours on his back deck on two days, if you need some proof, ask him, Olaf was there, the rest of us were also there.
We went to leave and Chris whispers in my ear. "We got a mangrove cuckoo spot and they were calling like crazy, you want to go?"
There are a few things that mean an instant yes. When your wife or a hot blonde says, do you want have sex or more sex...you say yes. When someone wants to give you more than your asking price for something, you say yes. When your grandmother makes your favorite cookies and asks you if you want to eat another, you say yes. When a friend asks you if you want to go see a mangrove cuckoo, just like the carnal question, you roll your tongue back in your mouth to keep yourself from tripping on it and you nod and follow but try not to drool.
It was as if I felt we were being followed to this secret mangrove cuckoo spot at Bill Baggs SP (or maybe it was some place near there?). I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure no one was following us. We came we saw we conquered.
It was cool. We heard and saw two of them. In the excitement, I forgot to photograph them. I have a great photo of the mangrove cuckoo from 2002 (shot at a gas station while pumping gas). Here is a photo Tommy took of us looking at the 2nd cuckoo. I had my camera with....IDK.
#383 Mangrove Cuckoo
#384 Great crested flycatcher
I was on a roll. I had this feeling there was an ani in Florida, I sped to the Fort Myers Airport and looked for one on Snake Road but all I saw was a white-tailed kite pair flying, I love to watch kites anyhow.
Then after I got to Minneapolis, they did have one reported, I was at the wrong place. One appeared at Loxahatchee. When I get on a roll, I can call birds. It has been done before, but I don't understand it. When this happens, I need to keep at it. I now could taste 400 for January. It would be tough but it could be done
You know, when I got home to South Dakota at 10pm, I had driven on January 26th, 602 miles and flown for 3.5 hours. all that, and I was ready to head to Iowa in the morning from home, after I sent my daughter off to school, fed the dog and got the mail. What is a 400 mile day compared to today? It would just be a short drive for shopping. I'd go grocery shopping in Sioux Falls and follow a lead for some crossbills!
Like I said. I can do this all day, everyday. This is a sleeper compared to a surgical residency--the best thing to prepare you for a big year. I had exorcised the pink demon and I was at 384. I met some great birders, had a great chase, and things were setting up nicely, best of all I could now wear pink...well maybe not.
It was an eventful 60 hours
Beware of the pink menace!
...and thank you everyone! It is very appreciated.